2005 creative writing contest winner—prose

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<ul><li><p>REFLECTIONS</p><p>2005 Creative Writing Contest WinnerProse</p><p>SKIN</p><p>Doncha think its real cool, Grandpa? All my friends have one.</p><p>Adjusting his spectacles, Krieger bent over, gazed intently a few seconds at the tiny pink rose on her</p><p>back, then clucked approvingly. Long ago, he learned not to display shock or anger to children, or his</p><p>patients.</p><p>Did it hurt, Jodi? Eyebrows raised, smiling.</p><p>Nope, she chirped proudly.</p><p>It seemed a bizarre fashion; using ones body as a garishly ornamental billboard. He gave it no</p><p>further thought until well after his daughters family had returned to Ohio . . . It had been 6 months</p><p>since Sarahs death. Every day he recalled her handsome face, sweet smile, the happiness of their long</p><p>life together. Sarah had been afraid of dying. Even talking of it. She refused to accompany him to</p><p>Krumholz the lawyer, to draw up a will. There was no convincing her. But . . . the circumstances of her</p><p>death still haunted him. She had been just 75. Although pale and weak, she had refused to go to the</p><p>hospital until the bleeding became uncontrollable. The hematologist said she had an interesting dis-</p><p>ease. Even in medical school Krieger knew the label interesting invariably meant devastating and</p><p>incurable. I should have screamed enough is enoughgenug. he often thought. It would have spared</p><p>her medicines last rites: the foredoomed chest-poundings, the poisonous resurrection cocktails. Such</p><p>suffering. Poor Sarah. The rare form of blood cancer, the fevers, the hemorrhaging, the overwhelming</p><p>infections. Comatose on a respirator for 4 weeks . . . until the end. It had been inhumane to prolong her</p><p>dying.</p><p>He felt responsible, and resolved not to let that happen to him.</p><p>Shortly after her burial he obtained 2 bottles of Seconal, putting them behind a book on the shelf.</p><p>The children and grandchildren were taken care of in the will, the burial plot and funeral paid for in</p><p>advance. He was ready. He had no religious misgivings about ending his life, nor illusions about the</p><p>existence of an afterlife. He was in fairly good health for a man of 82; failing eyesight, aching hips and</p><p>knees, and barely adequate urinary plumbing and bowels. Not frightened of dying, there were times</p><p>after her funeral it seemed most welcome, he wanted it to be on his own terms; swift and painlessif at</p><p>all possible. In his lifetime, he must have written natural causes on hundreds of death certificates.</p><p>Krieger felt he had the right to determine the time and manner of his death. Pneumonia, once referred</p><p>to by his professors as the old mans friend no longer provided a quick exit. When the inevitable</p><p>occurred, an illness he knew would end in his physical or mental decrepitude, he planned to take the</p><p>pills, peacefully go to sleep, and join her.</p><p>The second Thursday of eachmonth he visited Jake. On the long bus ride Krieger always reflected on</p><p>their long friendship. My best friend since high school, oh how I envied him. Little Jakie, the top student</p><p>at Boston Latin helping me with my homework, introducing his cousin Sarah to me one summer. Just</p><p>imagine . . . years later he became Professor Jacob Levov of MIT, the brilliant astrophysicist once rumored</p><p>to be on Stockholms short list. Didnt they even name an equation after him? Sarah was always un-</p><p>successfully introducing him to eligible lady friends. But, resolutely a bachelor, he was married to his</p><p>research. When he had a stroke I didnt know about it for weeks. For the past 2 years, poor Jake had been</p><p>wrapped in diapers, strapped to a wheelchair in front of a TV in a nursing home dayroom. The foul odors,</p><p>waxy skin, swollen legs. Id read the newspaper to him, hold his cold, immobile hand. Jakes mute un-</p><p>blinking face was horrifying. Was this life? I pondered. No, he was one of themany living dead. Not for me.</p><p>An hour was all I could bear. On the bus home I always sat in the back wiping away the tears . . .</p><p>It was after his recent visit to Jake that he remembered little Jodi, and made his decision.</p><p>One wintery afternoon he rode the subway downtown, getting off in the Combat Zone, an area of</p><p>strip joints, porno shops, tattoo, and body-piercing parlors. The CHAMELEONs neon-lit window</p><p>673</p></li><li><p>beckoned, proclaiming Body ArtCustom Tattooing. Disposable NeedlesPublic Health Dept. ap-</p><p>proved.</p><p>Whatll you have, Pops? the young Asian woman said. He must have looked uncertain.</p><p>Before you make up your mind, let me show you around. Youll get an idea of my beautiful work.</p><p>The small shop had psychedelic posters and photos of necks, backs, chests, and buttocks deco-</p><p>rated with scorpions, cobras, cupids, Satanic symbols, and religious images covering the walls like a</p><p>stamp album. The blasting rock music made it difficult for him to speak.</p><p>He shook his head, and wrote what he wanted on a piece of paper.</p><p>Thats all? No kidding? That big? Do you want me to doll it up a bit, some U.S. flags, a few coiled</p><p>snakes? I can do calligraphy or Olde English script, but itll take longer and cost more. How about some</p><p>pretty colors instead of just black?</p><p>He shook his head.</p><p>Where do you want it?</p><p>He opened his shirt and pointed.</p><p>OK, have a seat, motioning to the worktable near the front window, its plenty warm in here. Ill</p><p>have to shave your chest clean.</p><p>She lathered the area with green soap and carefully maneuvered the Bic razor.</p><p>Usually, it doesnt grow back, she said reassuringly.</p><p>Soon an admiring crowd formed: bearded bikers in leather, nose-ringed punks with green and</p><p>fuschia hair, and 3 scruffy derelicts who had wandered in.</p><p>Youre the oldest dude Ive ever put my artistry on, she said. The onlookers nodded. She placed</p><p>the letter stencils on the table and began. The electric hum of the tattooing gun could barely be heard.</p><p>The group winced when he winced.</p><p>Does it hurt, Pops? Should I stop for a moment? she whispered, letting up on the foot pedal. Eyes</p><p>shut, he shook his head.</p><p>An hour went by.</p><p>There, how do you like it, Pops? she said, wiping him dry, offering a mirror.</p><p>He stared at the reflection. D.N.R. in 3 in high capitals. The abbreviation would suffice, he thought.</p><p>If ever Im taken to a hospital, the aggressive young doctors would know what that meant. Let me be!</p><p>Are those your initials?</p><p>The joking stopped when he explained what the letters signified to the medical profession.</p><p>No ##! You dont mean it, do ya? Why ya doin that?I have my reasons. Im a physician. I know what Im doing.</p><p>Everyone was silent, staring in disbelief. He got up, dressed, wrote a check, and walked out.</p><p>It was becoming dark. Few were on the street as Krieger shuffled to the station.</p><p>There, done. I dont owe them an explanation, he grumbled. Whyn the hell should I tell them</p><p>about Sarah and Jake? Its none of their goddamn business.</p><p>He knew Sarah or the family would never have understood. Nobody would, but that didnt matter.</p><p>LESLIE G. COHEN, MD</p><p>11 Robeson Street, Jamaica Plain, Mass, USA.</p><p>lgcohen33@hotmail.com</p><p>FROM FINAL JUDGE JACK COULEHAN</p><p>I chose Skin to be the winner in prose narrative, not so much because Im a grandpa myself, but</p><p>because of the storys deep humanity and heroism. Anton Chekhov wrote that the good playwright, who</p><p>casually leaves a pistol lying around the stage in the first act, should wow the audience in the third act</p><p>by using that pistol to bring on the plays climax. So, too, with Skin. This is a story of loss and com-</p><p>passion, but in the end, when the pistol goes off, at some level everyone in the audience cheers.</p><p>674 JGIMSkin</p></li></ul>